Big-spending Chinese football’s shock implosion

Big-spending Chinese football’s shock implosion

Chinese Super League champion Jiangsu FC announced Sunday it would “cease operations” with immediate effect, just three months after winning its first title.

Nanjing-based Jiangsu, which is owned by retail giant Suning that also holds a majority stake in Italian league leader Inter Milan, said on social media that it hoped that a new backer could be found after the company pulled out.

“Even though we are reluctant to part with the players who have won us the highest honors, and fans who have shared solidarity with the club, we have to regretfully make an announcement,” a Jiangsu FC statement said. “From today, Jiangsu Football Club ceases the operation of its teams.”

Suning had reportedly tried to sell Jiangsu, which has debts estimated to be around $US90 million ($117m). Also folding are Jiangsu’s successful women’s team and various youth teams.

Earlier this month, Suning owner Zhang Jindong said the group would cut back on non-retail activities after a difficult year in which revenues had been hit by COVID-19.

“We will focus on retail business and close and cut down our businesses that are not connected,” said Jindong, whose personal wealth is estimated by Forbes at $9.5 billion.

Alex Teixeira Santos #10 of Jiangsu Suning FC in action against Beijing Guoan in the Chinese Super League. (Getty)

There have been reports in Italy that Suning, which bought a majority stake in Inter in 2016, is looking to sell the Milan club.

Jiangsu will be the second Chinese team to withdraw from the Asian Champions League that kicks off in April. Shandong Luneng was kicked out of the competition for breaching rules regarding outstanding salary payments.

There are concerns that Jiangsu may soon be followed by Tianjin Tigers. Club owner Teda has cut investment in the team it has owned since 1998 after the Chinese Football Association ruled this year that all team names must be free from corporate titles. Last year, the city’s other club, Tianjin Tianhai, went bankrupt.

Chinese soccer became one of the biggest-spending leagues in the world over the past decade.

Star players including Hulk, Oscar and Paulinho arrived in the country along with World Cup winning coaches Marcello Lippi and Luiz Felipe-Scolari. Jiangsu hired ex-England coach Fabio Capello and signed Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Ramires for 50 million euros ($78m) and 28 million euros ($44m) respectively, and almost snared Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale in 2019.

In a bid to cut costs, a new salary cap has been imposed for the 2021 season that will limit club expenditures to $US90 million ($117m) a year.

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